WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has asked the State Department for more information about the deletion of several minutes of videotape from a news briefing dealing with sensitive questions about U.S.-Iranian nuclear negotiations.
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry released on Friday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked for documents identifying the official or officials involved in editing out the portion of the Dec. 2, 2013, daily press briefing. Chaffetz said he was making the request "to better understand the facts and circumstances surrounding the deletion."
Earlier this week, the department said an investigation into the deleted question-and-answer exchange between a reporter and then-spokeswoman Jen Psaki had been deliberately edited and was not a technical glitch as it had first suggested. However, it said the technician who edited the video couldn't remember the name of the official who asked for the edit. A department official said on Friday that Psaki, who has denied any knowledge of the edit, did not make the request.
On Thursday, department spokesman Mark Toner repeated that the excision was "inappropriate" and "unacceptable" even though it was not specifically barred by the rules at the time. He said the investigation had reached a "dead end" and would not likely continue unless the department received additional information. He added that the department was changing its internal regulations to specify that such actions are prohibited.
During the briefing in question, a reporter asked Psaki, now the White House communications director, about the State Department's denial earlier that year of secret talks between Washington and Tehran. Those discussions, which were revealed by The Associated Press and other media in the week before the briefing, had occurred periodically and eventually led to a breakthrough, seven-nation nuclear deal.
The reporter, Fox News' James Rosen, started his inquiry by referencing an earlier Feb. 6, 2013, briefing in which State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said there were no intermittent conversations between Obama administration and Iranian officials outside of larger multinational gatherings. Nuland has said she had no knowledge of the talks at the time she denied they were happening. Rosen asked Psaki if Nuland had been speaking truthfully or if it was acceptable to lie to protect the secrecy of the secret talks.
Psaki responded: "There are times where diplomacy needs privacy. This is a good example of that."
The same day, however, that exchange was edited out of the video of the briefing that the department posted on its website and YouTube, even though it remained in the official transcript and backup video for broadcasters.
Although the unedited video has been restored, the deletion of the exchange has enraged congressional Republicans and others who believe the Obama administration misled the public about the Iran negotiations.